Category Archives: Inniskillings

Letters from Crete

Much of the information used in these Blogs comes from official sources; mostly British. These reflect the official view, usually from British officers, of what they considered was happening in Crete at that time, and what they considered worth reporting. These original sources would then have been archived, and what is now accessible in those archives is what some archivist considered worth keeping. Relatively few sources remain which express the views of the ordinary British troops. However, on occasion, the voice of the ordinary British soldier or sailor is discernible. Not usually in the official archives, but more often in the form their writings for their comrades in unofficial journals, or in letters and postcards sent home to their loved ones.

Purely by coincidence, the two such letters below were written by soldiers from 1/Northumberland Fusiliers. (Spelling and punctuation as in the original letters.)

Private W. West. C Co. 1/Northumberland Fusiliers.[1]

Letter to his sister and brother. Undated, but between 6th October and 5th November 1898. West had been through the Sudan Campaign and fought at Khartoum and Omdurman.

“We left Egypt on the 3rd October for Crete and arrived on the 6th same month with only a short sail and this place is not a very nice place. We are under canvas here doing duty with the Turks this time and it is a murderous place to bide in, you’re not safe. Before we came they came and killed a lot of people and some British soldiers and sailors which landed from the boat for there is a lot of battleships here and we are confined to barracks and not allowed to go out of town. We bide in our tent all the time. If a man has to go on duty he has to have an escort of armed men. If we go to bathe we have to take our rifles with us. It is a very big place Candia in Crete and we want to get the Turks out and if they do not go very soon our gunboats are going to blow the place up. The murderers have killed a lot.

We all had to land in small boats from our navy and it was awfully rough as there is no harbour here I suppose Jimmy has often passed it. We are camped right along-side the sea and it is very cold in the night here after coming from a hot place, the Sudan. We are only allowed 1 pint of beer a day, the men cannot get no more3, so the sooner we get away from here the better, but I think we will have another battle before we go, that will mean another medal then I will have a breast like a second-hand pawn shop, then I will be able to cut the death with my medals and my badges and cross gun, what, there are no flies on me, but I think they can keep the medal if only I get away.

When we were in the Sudan we got the order for Malta. We all got ready for it but they shoved us here instead. Hard luck coming out of one battle and going into another one. We’ll I’ll chance it anyway, see what god sends me. I suppose you have read about this affair, the Turks and the Armenians cutting up business, but they will get cutting up this time if they start, they will get what the Dervishes got and what Jimmy said, we’ll give them cold steel, and we did. What, there are no flies on me.”

Private W. West. C Co. 1/Northumberland Fusiliers[2]

Letter to his sister and brother. 5th February 1899.

“I tell you that Crete is a very bad place indeed for a soldier and I wish I was out of it really. But I tell you I am going to the West Indies in September.”

The following is a letter home from Private Michael Fitzgerald 1/Northumberland Fusiliers, reproduced here by kind permission of his great nephew, Patrick Fitzgerald.

‘Candia Crete January 8th 1899

My Dear Brother

I arrived here on 11th off the last month  with the Detachment from Malta, all of the men that were able to pass the Doctor was sent here, it took us two days, It is one of the worst places I have ever been in there are two Regiments here our & the Rifle Brigade our Regiment is scattered all over the shop, there are two Companys away up the hills on outpost duty keeping the greeks and turks from fighting with one another I expect you know all about the row they had here last September, the Bashi Bazouk are a fierce looking lot but they are disarming them every day they have already about 30,000 Rifles off them so there is not much fear of them breaking out again. It is just as cold here as in England at present all the hills are covered with snow it is a cruel place to send a Regt. To after been in such a hot climate as the Sudan there has been and awful lot of sickness among the troops the Rifle Brigade lost about 40 men & ours lost about 9 men all the Turkish troops have left the Island so there is sure to be peace among them now. Our Regiment expects to leave here in March for the West Indies. I am going to try and get out of it if I can I have seen enough of the world, I wrote to you from Malta before I left and I have not got an answer yet I hope there is nothing up but id you wrote it might have gone astray as I have known a lot of men send curios and things from here and they never got an answer. I am going to send 10 shilling to you for Father you can send it two him you can’t get a postal order here so I an going to send it to you and you will know how to get it cashed for him. I am going to write to him to day I hope he is going on well. I haven’t heard from Polly or Maggie or Ellie this long time. I am going to send you a few little things at the end of this month so you can expect them, there has been more honours among out Officers & Non Coms than among any other Regiment & their is not a thing in the papers about them You would think that there was no other Regiment in the Soudan but the Guards & the Highlanders there Our Regt. Just done the same but we are not favourites with the papers but never mind we are just as much thought about so no more at present from

Your fond Brother Michael Fitzgerald

hoping that you may have good look & very good year write soon’

Michael Fitzgerald was born in Tourtane Lodge, beside the Duke of Devonshire’s estate at Lismore in Co. Waterford on the 26th July 1868. His father born in 1825 had served in the British Army but was receiving an army pension at the time of Michael’s birth.

Michael enlisted on the 17th November 1883 at Clonmel Barracks, stating his age to be 15 years and six months. He was assigned to the Northumberland Fusiliers Regiment with 501 as his service number, and saw service abroad in India, Gibraltar, Egypt, Malta & Crete according to his Account Book. He started as a Drummer and only reverted to Private on 1st September 1897.

Although the 2/Northumberland Fusiliers arrived on Crete on 6th October 1898, family records indicate that Michael arrived on Crete on the 10th December 1898. A previous researcher came up with was a record of him as dying in Candia on 29th March 1899, although Michael’s great nephew understands his date of death to be 19th April 1899.

As to the cause of his death, out of 12 servicemen who died on Crete in 1899 and whose cause of death is known, two died of enteric fever, two of alcohol poisoning, and one of malaria. The cause of death for the rest is unobtainable.

Assuming Michael was a Catholic, there’s a chance he was buried in the small Catholic graveyard in Candia (Iraklion). However, the records of burials here are sketchy to say the very least, basically just a few notes made by a researcher in the late 1980s, and the graveyard has since been built over and the memorials all dumped. There appears to be no memorial on Crete commemorating Michael. He was too late arriving on the island to appear on the memorial in Suda Bay; the Catholic graveyard no longer exists, and his name doesn’t appear on the current memorial wall or on any of the Northumberland Fusilier memorials in Iraklion.

As well as letters, servicemen sent souvenir postcards home.

Postcard to Sarah

Postcard to Sarah.

‘Dear Sarah this is one of the main Streets so there is no fear of getting mixed up with the tramcars here I couldn’t get any of the ones I wanted but this will give you an idea of the town… looks better here than it is’     Undated from an unknown serviceman.

While British Army personnel were withdrawn from Crete in July 1909, the Royal Navy had a presence on the island until 1913.

Letter from HMS Minerva, 1910.

‘HMS Minerva

Suda Bay

March 1st 1910.

Dear Old Tich

Papers to hand received quite safe and sound hope all at home are quite well as I am at present I am playing football today against the French Xi they are pretty hot at (Hocky?) I am sending usual money this is how we go ashore now all in white So Au Revoir

From your trusty brother NOBBY’

The following two postcards were apparently written by the same person, probably Tom Burnett.

Stamped at British Headquarters 29 September 1905.

Postcard to Mrs Burnett, 29 Sept 1905

‘This is prince george’s wife.

Dear Mother

Just a few lines hoping you are well as it leaves me so at present Tom’


Stamped at British Headquarters 28 December 1905.

Postcard to Mrs Burnett. 28 Dec 1905

‘Dear mother

I will (write?) later but a line hoping to find you are all quite well as it leaves me at present. I am busy now so will write later Tom’

Tom possibly served with 1/Kings Royal Rifle Corps who were on Crete from March 1905 to February 1906, or with 2/Royal Sussex who were on the island from May 1905 to February 1907. Other troops on the island at this time were a small number of Royal Engineers and 20 or so garrison staff.


[1] The Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland. ALFN:848

[2] Ibid.

Christmas in Crete

The 1/Inniskilling Fusiliers spent the Christmas of 1907 in Crete. In the midst of their other duties, one of the battalion at least managed to find the time to send home an appropriate Christmas card.

The 1/Inniskillings' Christmas card, Crete 1907

The 1/Inniskillings’ Christmas card, Crete 1907

One of them at least had some idea of the climatic conditions awaiting them over that Christmas. A member of the battalion named Sid, referred to in previous posts, purchased a commercially produced postcard, apparently taken in 1906 or earlier, which, according to his annotation, shows snow on the Officers’ Mess in Candia.

British Officers' mess in Candia in the winter.c.1906

British Officers’ mess in Candia in the winter.c.1906

According to The Army Medical Department report for 1907,[1] the huts used as accommodation for the men in Candia were ”commodious and fairly comfortable, but in some cases falling into disrepair.”  The Officers’ huts were no better, being “…mostly old, badly constructed, and afford[ing] scanty accommodation, most of the rooms[…] not provided with stoves, and some of the junior officers hav[ing] to occupy EP [Enlisted Personnel] tents through the greater part of the year. “

The class distinction between officers and men was brought out well in the report: “ The detachment at Canea, consisting of 3 officers and 55 to 65 men, is somewhat better accommodated [than those in Candia] in three houses, of which that occupied by the officers is well situated and arranged. The two houses occupied by the men seem to offer hardly enough accommodation for the large number above stated, and it is considered by the Senior Medical Officer that the detachment should be kept constantly at 50.”

[1] 1908[Cd.4057] Army Medical Department report for the year 1907. Vol. XLIX p.60.

A lonely death?

From internal evidence obtained from other photographs, the photograph/postcard below was apparently one of a series which were the property of a member of 1/Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers serving in Crete in 1907/1908.

British cemetery Candia 1907.

British cemetery Candia 1907.

British cemetery Candia 1907, reverse of postcard.

British cemetery Candia 1907, reverse of postcard.

The text reads:

Taken just after a funeral.

Another view of our cemetery.

This was taken by one of our men.

The chap that was buried when this was taken, was in hospital with me and died of Malarial fever after 5 days illness, and no one knew who his people were,  Sid


Three members of 1/Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers died while the Battalion was stationed on Crete between February 1907 and February 1908. Given that the majority of British servicemen who died during the Intervention did so of disease and the records available are not that detailed, it’s almost impossible to determine who it was that is referred to on the postcard. The memorials in the British military cemetery in Agios Konstantinos and Helene, Iraklion, indicate however, that the deceased is one of the following :

Private J. Reid               No. 8733     Died 13th July 1907          Age 19   C Company

Memorial to Private Reid, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Memorial to Private Reid, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Corporal A.E. Smith     No. 4564     Died 2nd October 1907    Age 32   C Company

Memorial to Corporal Smith, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Memorial to Corporal Smith, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Private R. Truesdale    No. 8730     Died 9th August 1907       Age 19   C Company

Memorial to Private Truesdale, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Memorial to Private Truesdale, Inniskilling Fusiliers. Candia 1907

Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers memorial, Candia 1907

Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers memorial, Candia 1907

Hopefully, someone eventually found out who his people were and informed them accordingly.

High Commissioner Zaimis

In September 1906, following the elections which came after the Theriso Revolt, Prince George had had enough of Crete, and Crete had had enough of Prince George. His replacement, who took office shortly after George’s departure from the island on 25th September, arriving there on 30th September 1906, was Alexandros Zaimis; twice previously Prime Minister of Greece and ‘…an experienced politician not noted for superabundant energy (energy was the last thing the Powers wanted in Crete).’[1]

Alexandros Zaimis High Commissioner of Crete.

Alexandros Zaimis High Commissioner of Crete.

Zaimis arrived in Canea and was greeted with an appropriate military guard of honour, the British contingent apparently being provided by the Royal Navy, as shown on the contemporary postcard photograph below.

The arrival of High Commissioner Zaimis. Canea 30 September 1906.

The arrival of High Commissioner Zaimis. Canea 30 September 1906.

Interestingly, an almost identical photograph – note to positions of the rowing boats – was used on another postcard  This time more detail of the event is added; however, the date given is one month out.

High Commissioner Zaimis arriving Canea. Note the incorrect date.

High Commissioner Zaimis arriving Canea. Note the incorrect date.

Zaimis’s career as High Commissioner was relatively brief. Although appointed for a term of office of 3 years, on 12th October 1908 he was in Athens, by coincidence or otherwise, when  the Cretan Administration declared union with Greece. Following this Zaimis, though technically remaining High Commissioner, never returned to the island.

During his stay on Crete, on at least one occasion he made a formal visit to Iraklion. During this visit he reviewed the British troops stationed there. This parade was captured on camera and turned into a series of souvenir postcards

Parade of British Troops in honour of High Commissioner Zaimis.

Parade of British Troops in honour of High Commissioner Zaimis.

Iraklion parade for High Commissioner Zaimis.

Iraklion parade for High Commissioner Zaimis.

High Commissioner Zaimis passing British troops in review.

High Commissioner Zaimis passing British troops in review.

The exact date of the parade is, as yet, undetermined. However, if it was between his arrival in September 1906 and February 1907 it was 2/Royal Sussex, between February 1907 and February 1908, 1/Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and after then until his departure, 3/King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

A regiment which definitely WAS NOT involved was the unidentified Highland regiment shown in the card below; the last Scottish regiment to serve on Crete, 2/Cameron Highlanders,  left the island  in March 1903.

Souvenir postcard of High Commissioner Zaimis - date unknown.

Souvenir postcard of High Commissioner Zaimis – date unknown.







[1] Holland, R. and Markides, D. The British and the Hellenes. Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850 – 1960 (Oxford, 2006). 128.


Another parade.

Parade in Candia

Parade in Candia

Could be 1/Inniskilling Fusiliers, 3/King’s Royal Rifle Corps or 2/Royal Sussex. All were in Crete at some time in 1907 or 1908.